The ancient site of Stonehenge

Secret Stonehenge: Mounds, Artifacts, and Intrigue

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Stonehenge stands within a vast ritual landscape. Encircling the towering stones was once over 800 round mounds adding to the temple’s splendour. From within these enigmatic mounds some of the finest artifacts have been unearthed. They are the archaeological Holy Grail to understanding the spirituality and daily life of a culture long gone. Monuments like Stonehenge preserve their mathematical, astronomical and engineering capabilities like a megalithic library. Written in stone they are a legacy of their incredible achievements.

Bronze Age (c2500-750 BC orthodox dating) burial goods, such as jet from the Baltic, beads form Egypt and delicate and intricately designed gold artifacts reveal international trade and artistic craftsmanship. Such finds adorn several British museums attracting publicity and attention.

Yet, some of the mound artifacts are very intriguing and challenge our understanding of ancient Britain. My research has located documented evidence of an entire skeleton of a giant unearthed just one mile from Stonehenge, which was ‘13 feet and 10 inches tall’, strange metal objects and curious chalk plaques all of which were found in the round mounds of Salisbury Plain. Interestingly, the old English name for Stonehenge was The Giant’s Dance perhaps the medieval name was derived from the large skeletons that have been found in and around Salisbury Plain.

The Giant’s Dance - The old name for Stonehenge. Image courtesy of Maria Wheatley

The Giant’s Dance - The old name for Stonehenge. Image courtesy of Maria Wheatley

Salisbury Plain

Stonehenge stands like a guardian overlooking the vast Salisbury Plain. The area is managed by the MoD (Military of Defence) and it contains numerous prehistoric monuments. I liken it to Area 51 in the USA as it contains military ‘no-go’ zones. The armed services use it to practice manoeuvres, to launch laser guided weapons and as an intense firing range. Round mounds are plentiful in and around the Plain, some of which housed burials, although not all are so easily explained. One fascinating find came from a Plain barrow that was excavated in 1955. The excavated skull showed signs of surgery. Initially, a blanket explanation was given – the skull had been trepanned. Trepanning is a surgical technique of scraping out a deep round groove in part of the skull. It was thought that prehistoric trepanning may have been applied to relieve epilepsy, serve headaches and even cataracts. Archaeologists say our ancestors thought these illnesses were caused by evil-spirits.

Thus, in one particular view, trepanning was partly a shamanic response to alleviate symptoms. One image portrays a shabby looking caveman hacking away at a skull of an uncomfortable patient which implies a primitive and superstitious people that did not fully understand the implications of their surgical actions. Such Dark Age medieval association is, I believe, at insult to our prehistoric forefathers.

Example of art depicting prehistoric trepanation. Was it really so primitive?

Example of art depicting prehistoric trepanation. Was it really so primitive? ( CC by SA 4.0 )

Prehistoric cancer treatment

According to archaeological dating, the surgery occurred between c2000 and 1600 BC. Roger Watson, a Documentation Officer of finds, Devizes Museum, Wiltshire postulat es that the young man underwent a major surgical operation for ‘a brain tumour that involved the cutting away of a disk of bone measuring 32 mm in diameter from his cranium. The cut was probably made with a blade made of flint which is razor sharp. What was used for an anaesthetic or to sterilize, to close the wound we don't know at all.’

Around the Stonehenge environs, numerous Bronze Age patients survived this type of repeated operation. Flint is razor sharp and an ideal medium for fine cutting and scraping. However, the young man whose skull was investigated by Watson lived in an era when copper was widely available. There is evidence that copper metal may have been used to make surgical instruments that supported the surgeon’s flint knife. We know that a surgeon’s operational kit is far more than just knives.

Whilst the skull is defiantly an artifact unearthed by an antiquarian centuries ago, which has only recently been re-examined by Watson, who, incidentally has pushed the boundaries of prehistoric medical awareness away from superstition into an objective surgical dimension. Thankfully, we are now eroding the restrictions of intellectual arrogance and beginning to see prehistory in a new light.

Compared to other regional monumental sites, such as the nearby Avebury Henge, or sites further afield such as megalithic sites in Scotland, the Stonehenge mounds have a statistically higher proportion of trepanned skulls.  Stonehenge may have been England’s first surgical capital.

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